Struggling to BeginMay 23, 2007
I wrestle with sermon introductions – I really do. Whenever the spiritual gifts were being handed out, the gift of “Sermon Opener” was not bestowed upon me! While the senior pastor in my church is consummate at “striking oil in the first five minutes”, I cannot say the same. To the contrary, I write and rewrite. I scrap and start again. I spend a hugely disproportionate amount of time on the first two sermon pages alone.
I also vacillate between extremes in terms of content. Sometimes I use a very crafted introduction, pulling upon a contemporary event or a personal story which leads me to my main point. On other occasions I may open straightforwardly and simply. Frustratingly, I’m often not sure which works best or why. And even when I do ‘get it right’ a similar approach may not work the next time!
So what have I become sure of with regards the sermon introduction?
1. Sermon introductions need to wake up the listener and keep their attention. A sermon intro should function rather like your alarm clock: it should wake people up and make sure they don’t go back to sleep! I find that sometimes the theme is already so gripping that there is no need to raise interest. Given the subject, “the theme of the message today is that God hates divorce” may suffice. At other times, a passage is so familiar to the congregation that it almost begs for a more provocative opening. Last Sunday evening I proceeded with: “Preaching is an ineffective and outdated form of communication.” There was a collective sigh when I added, “At least that’s what some people say.” I could then explain that some people write-off preaching by deeming it a ‘monologue’, and then challenge the assumption with the parable of the sower (i.e. the interface between the preached word – “seed” – and the listener’s heart “soil”).
2. Sermon introductions need to clearly lead to the main point. The most common reason why I need to scrap a given sermon intro is not because it isn’t gripping; it is rather because it isn’t leading unswervingly to the main point. An illustration on a general theme (eg. love) won’t do; I need to find the specific nuance and bring that out in my intro (eg. love for Jesus always leads to obedient action)
3. Sermon introductions need to be brief. One of my favourites quotes about this is from John Broadus. He once said that listeners don’t want “a porch on a porch.” They want to fairly quickly move into the warmth of the house! If I find my opening illustration building yet another extension, I need to check myself and cut things back to the bare minimum. If I’ve already gained attention and surfaced the main point or question, any further introduction is but stealing time from the main body of the sermon.